Guiding Quote

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” Einstein

Monday, September 23, 2013

Fractals and Management

In project management the theory is that we have some bad projects, but that in the main most projects are well run, on time, and on budget in all companies. In fact it's not even true for most companies. Why is that?

The project management discipline has been, in its modern critical path guise, around for over 50 years. So practice of that age should now be delivering repeatable and predictable results. The usual advice given to people on how to acquire a skill is: practice, practice, practice. Well we've been practicing project management for decades and yet we seem to be no better at it. Of course the unwritten assumption in the skill acquisition adage is that you're practicing the right thing!

If so many companies have problem projects then the question has to be why? The usual approach to answering this question is to conduct lessons learned sessions and then change procedures to ensure that it doesn't happen again. And yet it does! No amount of fiddling with methods, tools, or procedures seems to make things better.

Benoit Mandelbrot, Nobel Prize winner, developed the concept of fractal geometry. One of whose points is that as you magnify a given shape you see the same shape, and as you increase the magnification you see the same shape again.

So what as this to do with projects?

Well maybe it's not just the projects that are troubled. Look at the management level above the projects. Are they troubled? And are the layers of management above them also troubled. Like the fractal under the highest magnification maybe they are images of the layers above them. Projects will reflect the behaviors of the management system within which they exist. If top management is reactive and panicky then all the layers below them will exhibit the same attributes.

Bad management must be a systemic issue because if it weren't then good management would have exercised the practices from the body corporate.

So if you see a number of troubled projects don't just look at the individual projects, also look at the management milieu that they exist in. Look at he management chain and if you see fractals then you know you have a serious problem.

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